Saturday 4 May 2024

MUSINGS: On Hardware Audiophilia and Wine Tasting.

Across the years of audiophile discussions, we sometimes will see parallels drawn between the world of the oenophile (wine connoisseur) and hardware audiophile. While both pursuits involve a strong subjective component since the ultimate intent is enjoyment, there are also clearly differences when we take the time to compare them. I actually don't think many of the heated debates among audiophiles have meaningful analogues within the wine-tasting world.

Recently, in this thread on Steve Hoffman Forum about "snake oil", J-Flo made a nice comment on this; let's have a look at his post and I'll add my observations and thoughts with some opportunity to expand upon the ideas.

First, here's the comment in full:

J-Flo, Saturday April 27, 2024 at 2:26 PM:

I see many parallels between audiophile accessorizing and the world of fine wine (a prior obsession of mine that was hundreds of times more expensive than being an audiophile). In that arena many of the world’s top producers employ a wide range of arcane and some seemingly voodoo-like practices, and the analytically observable characteristics provide only categorical baselines (including basic flavor profile, how “hot” or alcoholic the wine is, whether it will overwhelm or complement food, and whether the wine is drinkable and will keep). But other than broad flavor and aroma profiles, wine lovers for the most part accept that science doesn’t have all the answers for an aesthetic endeavor. Wine lovers then spend time tasting different producers, vineyards, vintages and figuring out what qualities appeal most to the individual taster, finding words to describe those things, and then seeking out those characteristics in other wines. But they are mostly focused on the wine, and spend limited mental bandwidth and budget on peripherals such as the perfect glassware, decanting, storage, etc.

(To take an example of the worlds’ finest red burgundy / pinot noir producers, some of them practice organic farming, some are fully biodynamic and use methods supposedly learned from druids, many of them use egg whites to “fine” the larger particles out of the wine, others use “gentle” filtering, at least one uses fully gravity-based techniques (no pumping), most of them harvest and sort the grapes by hand, a surprising number of them use oak barrels harvested from old trees in a particular forest in France. Most wine lovers might note these details with interest but just enjoy the wine.)

Interestingly, audiophiles are much more focused on seemingly peripheral subjects like cabling, isolation, power conditioning, and the like. There’s a lot more attention to “scientific analysis” in this realm, predicated (in my opinion) on the erroneous view that we are able to scientifically measure and explain everything we sense aesthetically. I don’t believe we can at present, and even if we could (or someday can with better science and modeling of how our brains work), there is still no good reason why something measurable or the lack thereof should override subjective preferences.

This forum contains many examples of people praising the dramatic way in which a different isolation technique opened up a cornucopia of wonder in the listener’s $25,000 system (which helped to persuade me that I didn’t need such a system). I believe almost anything can make an audible difference and am not questioning others’ hearing, rather I believe that each listener’s aesthetic sense should control their experience. For myself, I try to focus more on things that I believe make a lot more difference in what I hear — recording quality/mastering, speakers, room.

While I would not consider myself an oenophile, I do enjoy a bottle here and there with friends and family. I guess it's like in audio discussions when a guy comes out and says "I'm not really an audiophile, but love music!". BTW, here in British Columbia, we have some nice vineyards especially in the Okanagan so check out some local offerings.

The first thing I feel that needs to be discussed is to be clear about what is being enjoyedWhen we taste wine for pleasure, we are experiencing different flavors from different vineyards. Different techniques with all the variables that add to the taste like soil conditions, weather, grape varieties, type of barrel used, duration of fermentation, cultivation conditions chosen by the vintner, aging, etc. all will change the final product. That is, the "thing" (wine) that's being experienced is objectively different coming out from the bottle depending on producer, vintage, storage condition, and age before being opened and tasted. I'm sure we can measure characteristics of each wine and note differences in pH, fluid density, visible clarity, sugar / tannin / alcohol content. If we put each wine through spectroscopic and chromatographic analyses, there would be unique "fingerprints" found. As one would expect, yes there are papers written about testing "wine quality" utilizing objective methods; here's one using spectroscopy for wine authentication.

Correlating these ideas to the world of the audiophile, I think it's reasonable to compare the wine itself to "music". That is, the music recording. Since wines all come from fermented grapes, each variant will still taste like "wine" rather than beer or whiskey. So too, perhaps classic jazz albums share similar characteristics. Using this analogy, a beer might be like the pop genre, vodka akin to hard rock, maybe classic rock could be a nice aged Scotch. 🙂

A wine lover preferring a well-regarded brand of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon over a fine Argentinian Malbec would be like a music lover saying they subjectively prefer Kind Of Blue over Sketches of Spain. I can't imagine oenophiles getting too agitated over such personal preferences, nor would audiophiles have any reason to get angry over which of these Miles Davis albums sound the "best" for him/herself.

Subjective enjoyment of the artist's work (the music itself) is not what objective-leaning audiophiles care to argue about; we understand that this would be pointless. Nobody gets upset if someone enjoys red vs. white or French vs. American wine, just like we can't insist anyone needs to prefer Miles Davis over Dave Brubeck.

Notice how different this is compared to the debates on audiophile forums about the "best" fancy cables, or tweaks where comments can get pretty snarky. Debates over most reasonable components like (pre)amplifiers, speakers, DACs, streamers, turntables, phono cartridges, etc. typically are not as heated unless we start getting into the territory of ridiculous pricing; allegations of "audio jewelry" which in my mind is a form of snake oil.

Unlike the preference in taste between different wines, in the hardware audiophile world, we're commonly debating claims that the same music file or LP sounds significantly different because of the hardware changes we've introducing as end users. Do such arguments happen in the wine tasting world?

Do wine connoisseurs insist that their expensive Venetian Murano glassware (like this very nice US$560 one) make the same wine from the same original bottle taste very different compared to the inexpensive glassware from IKEA (like the $5 DYRGRIP)? The most I've see is the idea that wineglass shapes such as a larger mouth can change oxygenation and the larger bowl might help "release aroma" from the volatile alcohol (discussions like this).

Wine enthusiasts can do things like use a decanter to aerate the wine to change flavors, I suppose (this article in Scientific American might help us understand the science of wine decanting). Perhaps the use of a good wine cooler for storage is important, but I'm not sure if wine aficionados debate too vigorously about a "high-end" cooler making a huge difference in taste assuming the temperatures are measurably maintained equivalently over time when comparing to a much less expensive brand.

As J-Flo noted, wine production is complex:

(To take an example of the worlds’ finest red burgundy / pinot noir producers, some of them practice organic farming, some are fully biodynamic and use methods supposedly learned from druids, many of them use egg whites to “fine” the larger particles out of the wine, others use “gentle” filtering, at least one uses fully gravity-based techniques (no pumping), most of them harvest and sort the grapes by hand, a surprising number of them use oak barrels harvested from old trees in a particular forest in France. Most wine lovers might note these details with interest but just enjoy the wine.)

Perhaps processes like filtering do change the wine's taste greatly, maybe they don't, but whatever process used will in some way change the physical product itself to various degrees. This is analogous to the world of music recording, mixing, and mastering. Whatever microphone was chosen will leave an impression, whatever effects processor like EQ or DAW plugin was applied by the artist and audio engineer will change the audible "taste" of the final music. However, none of this has to do with the audiophile's playback system just like the oenophile has no ability to adjust these variables other than choose the winery and vintage they prefer to buy from.

Since there's nothing we can do to change the recorded music, just like the quality of the wine we buy, the best we can achieve is to fully experience the thing itself (the sound, the taste) as completely and unadulterated as possible. This is why I've always advocated for "high-fidelity" / "transparency", as the ideal when it comes to audiophile-level music playback. Using low-fidelity, low-resolution gear is akin to the wine lover trying to enjoy his $200 bottle of Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon poured into a dirty unwashed glass that someone just used for their $3.49 Charles Shaw Merlot from Trader Joe's. 🫢

[By all means, enjoy the "Two-Buck Chuck"! It's probably fine. 😁]

When J-Flo says:

Interestingly, audiophiles are much more focused on seemingly peripheral subjects like cabling, isolation, power conditioning, and the like. There’s a lot more attention to “scientific analysis” in this realm, predicated (in my opinion) on the erroneous view that we are able to scientifically measure and explain everything we sense aesthetically. I don’t believe we can at present, and even if we could (or someday can with better science and modeling of how our brains work), there is still no good reason why something measurable or the lack thereof should override subjective preferences.

This is an important point. When it comes to heated audiophile hardware debates, we're often referring to the peripheral things like cables and tweaks like power conditioners, often not even important components like speakers, amps, or our rooms. These are not debates over the music/recording itself like comparing artistic merit, or even which pressing of an LP, which remaster, which mix of the album; all of these could actually have a fundamental impact on the sound.

Notice that I underlined a part of the middle sentence in J-Flo's comment above. While I agree that we don't have a model of the brain to be able to aesthetically explain preferences at this point in history, the measurement tools we have can already easily detect differences to tell us whether the sonic reproduction has changed and the magnitude of this change. Audio content encoded in the digital data and physical grooves, converted to electrical signals and then transduced to physical compressions and rarefactions to create sound waves can be measured to levels beyond human perceptual ability down to μV, nano/pico/femtoseconds, fractions of dB and Hz, etc. As such, I believe we can measure "everything we sense" even if we cannot judge the aesthetic significance for each person.

If "snake oil" products and tweaks are able to affect sound audibly, then there should be no difficulty quantifying those changes. Not only do we not have objective evidence for audio snake oil products, but we have not seen controlled, blinded, listening tests for them either (very important).

Images from Social Vignerons and Audio Bacon's survey of RCA cables.

When certain audiophiles and reviewers seriously insists that their US$1,000 RCA cable is going to make a significant audible difference, with the same recording based solely on testimony, this is akin to the very serious wine lover at the top of this post agonizingly obsessing over which of his various luxury wine glasses make the same bottle taste best because he apparently believes there are big differences! This kind of emotional investment in beliefs without evidence obviously could become psychologically pathological.

This forum contains many examples of people praising the dramatic way in which a different isolation technique opened up a cornucopia of wonder in the listener’s $25,000 system (which helped to persuade me that I didn’t need such a system). I believe almost anything can make an audible difference and am not questioning others’ hearing, rather I believe that each listener’s aesthetic sense should control their experience. For myself, I try to focus more on things that I believe make a lot more difference in what I hear — recording quality/mastering, speakers, room.

Yes, in general I can agree, especially the importance of that last sentence about the most important things - recording quality, speakers, and room.

Most of the time, sure, let's not get too emotional and fight about what we like. However, if we're discussing audio hardware on forums attempting to understand each other, how the technologies work, presumably each of us trying to build great-sounding high-fidelity sound systems, then we also need to be able to stand up to highly questionable claims. Being able to deduce the valuable from worthless products helps us navigate through a complex marketplace filled with magnified advertising claims.

I don't see a problem questioning others' hearing if there's likelihood of nonsense being claimed - like recent discussions around Herb Reichert and expensive cables. I also don't believe "anything can make an audible difference" if there's no reason to believe that the signal is significantly altered.

If the audiophile hobby is totally subjective and everything is possible including going against scientific principles, then there's not much point discussing anything and there's nothing really to learn from each other. We might as well just hang out with the like-minded fanboys. Perhaps buy every expensive cable and tweak out there and "listen for yourself". There would be no truth except "my truth". I'm sure every questionable manufacturer like Synergistic Research would love that we spend money in turn trying their colored fuses for example! I hope it's obvious that all they're trying to do is expedite the transfer of funds from the audiophools' bank accounts into theirs.

Ultimately, let's make sure that we seek the facts in this hobby while clearly acknowledge the subjective beauty of music and that there are many ways to reproduce recordings with the high fidelity hardware options available today within reasonable price points.

Facts are to the mind what food is to the body. On the due digestion of the former depend the strength and wisdom of the one, just as vigor and health depend on the other. The wisest in council, the ablest in debate, and the most agreeable companion in the commerce of human life, is that man who has assimilated to his understanding the greatest number of facts.     ----- Edmund Burke (1729-1797)


Audio recordings are the wine we consume as audiophiles; pick the variety (genre), vintage (album), and producer (artist) that gives you the most pleasure.

Audio hardware is like the wine lover's decanter and glassware that we use to consume the music. If you want to change the "taste" of your music, by all means utilize "colored"-sounding hardware or devices like EQ.

I don't think wine lovers purposely seek out dirty glassware that alters the taste. So too, if one is interested in high-fidelity, uncolored sound, then follow best-practice, evidence-based, guidelines to find low-distortion, low-noise equipment with flat frequency response and create for yourself a high-quality sound room.


For those who have not seen it yet, check out Benchmark's Audiophile Snake Oil article posted recently in early April. It's good that as audiophiles we have respectable companies and engineers willing to call it like it is.

As per the article, "Don't be That Guy" excited by all the rampant, uneducated beliefs out there about silly products that have no basis in reality - especially some of the most crazy stuff like fuses, receptacles, 'conditioners', directional cables, etc...

[The only quibble I have with the article is the part about: "Start by replacing components that only support unbalanced (RCA) analog interconnects. Replace any component that cannot deliver at least a 115 dB SNR."

For the most part, RCA is fine although we can get better noise-rejection and freedom from hum with balanced cables. And while 115dB SNR is obviously very good and not particularly difficult to achieve with some devices like DACs, I suspect a sound system would be excellent already with SNR 100dB across one's electronic system! For reference, the best that LPs can achieve would be maybe 65-70dB and reel-to-reel tape up to 75dB without Dolby SR processing (see this, with some specs from the NAGRA IV-S reel-to-reel machine at 15ips). Even with noise reduction, analog gear would not achieve 16-bit/CD-quality SNR which is "only" around 96dB.

In real-world listening, your noise floor will dictate how much dynamic range is needed. In a concert hall for example, it's unlikely we would ever need more than 80dB. A few weeks ago, I measured the noise floor at The Orpheum Theater during a Vancouver Symphony Orchestra performance. At best, when the audience was quiet, the noise floor was around 40dB SPL seated at Orchestra level, about row 5, just left of center. A dynamic range of 80dB implies peaks up to 120dB; loud enough to threaten hearing damage. 
While it's nice having modern hardware with high SNR, let's make sure we focus on our listening room's noise level! To me, the room and how we optimize the sound is clearly the most important part of the audio system. Especially for us urban dwellers in an age of affordability and housing issues, this could be a major challenge. When you have a quiet sound room, things like computer coil whine, cooling fans, and transformer hum can be issues easily unnoticed by those who listen in noisier environments. For example this expensive amplifier had an annoying transformer hum I would not have been satisfied with, yet I had not seen reviewers mention such an obvious issue.
I know many audiophiles drool over the latest and greatest electronics 🤤, but the gear is easier to buy and only meaningful if we have a good room to match. The rise of high quality "head-fi" is an alternative, but obviously a much different musical presentation and experience.]


Happy May 2024, everyone. Hope you're all enjoying the music & wine. Cheers!

Greetings from New York City. 🗽 I might wander into the audiophile establishments in Manhattan if I get the time and inspiration. Maybe will post some pictures if I do...

Don't forget to get me your results in the 2024 "High-End" DAC Blind Listening Survey. You have until May 15th to be counted; about 10 days left from the publication of this post. The files are already in a directory with cover image so you can just import it into your music directory like Roon to listen. Of course, feel free to let fellow audiophiles know of the test.

While no blind testing methodology is perfect, I believe this is the easiest, and highest-resolution way to test over the Internet. For those with the courage to listen and be counted, I think you'll appreciate the experience all the more once I unblind the 3 devices; who knows, you might be very surprised by the devices chosen and your blinded listening impressions.

Thanks for all those who have submitted their listening impressions already!


  1. Hej Arch,
    This was a fortunate stroke of serendipity! I have only just completed reading Cork Dork, by Bianca Bosker, a journalist who decides to explore the world of wine, diving into the science of our senses and ultimately, her quest to become a sommelier. Highly recommended.
    In the debate regarding digital files and if we really need anything more than 48Khz I found this you tube presentation well worth a watch. Digital Audio: The line between audiophiles and audiofools.
    Enjoy your New York adventure!

    1. Thanks Mike,
      Interesting book! will have to have a peek through it to get a better sense of the mindeset of the "Cork Dorks" :-).

      Yeah, from a science point of view, 48kHz is enough for anyone. Having said this, just in case, and since we should be able to accomplish the job without much trouble these days, I'd still advocate that we go for 24/96 if we can for the highest quality albums simply because this will take out any uncertainty and anxiety around the quality of the digital filter during playback. Only a minority of recordings can benefit.

      For DSP work (eg. room correction algorithms in the AV receiver for example), I think if possible 96+kHz would be nice so one can feed in one's 96kHz hi-res recordings without the need to downsample.

      Cheers! New York's an awesome place to visit in the spring 🙂.

  2. There's another difference: in many wine competitions, they agreed years ago to use blind tasting - the judges don't know what wine they are judging. And guess what?
    As soon as they did that California and other wines started to win prizes, and not just French wines.
    If only the audiophile world took an example from that and engaged in more blind comparisons and reviews.

    1. Nice example Danny,
      Cool bit of history! I looked into it and I see the Judgment of Paris 1976 is the well known one where Napa Valley wines were chosen as best by oenophiles in both red and white categories.

      11 judges in total, only 1 American and 1 British whose scores were not accounted for so only the 9 French judges. Yeah, if not blinded, really hard to imagine the judges not at least having some bias towards the French product!

      No kidding we definitely need a little more of this blinded listening level of honesty in the audiophile pursuit!

      Good for the oenophiles.

  3. Hello Arch.
    In my opinion, this is how the (music) world works. No two people in the world have the same view on the same thing. Each of us often perceives the same thing in completely opposite ways. Everything is a point of view. I can never explain to another person what I feel. And music is mainly about feeling. That is, if someone is convinced that something helps him (e.g. he hears something better), then it helps him, even if there is no explanation for it. The world is therefore so diverse that everyone can find their own thing in it. Everyone likes something different, everyone is helped by something different, and any explanation or questioning is useless, because each person perceives differently. One could say that the world works on the placebo principle. What we focus on (what we believe) happens.
    Have a nice day.

    1. Greetings Tom,

      Yes, for sure, how we appreciate and enjoy music is what matters at the end! So many genres, millions of recordings out there, all sorts of rhythms, languages, to affect each of us with our preferences, and backgrounds!

      However, as a consumer I would not want to be spending good money on placebos though. This would imply that I'm spending money on something that actually does nothing other than "fool me" or "allow me to believe", thinking that it enhances my experience but in reality it's a "sugar pill" with no active ingredient to work as advertised. There's an inherent dishonesty with placebos because the entity dispensing it knows that there was no special ingredient yet could be charging the same price as if there was something. (Hence why in medical research these days, patients or test subjects need to provide their informed consent, understanding the possibility of being in the placebo arm. In clinical care, dispensing placebos without patient knowledge in Western developed nations is not generally considered ethical.)

      I can certainly appreciate that some more expensive products look nice (esthetic artistry has some added value). And there's certainly value in high quality workmanship and materials.

      Unfortunately, I think there are many products out there with price tags way higher than the value of the workmanship and materials yet claiming special properties desired by the audiophile (usually claims that it just sounds better); but are nothing more than elaborate "sugar pills". 🤥

      A perfect of example of such a placebo would be the Synergistic PINK Quantum Fuse. Imagine, a small 5x20mm (0.75") fuse that costs US$250, yet has standard ratings like 100mA, slow blow-time. Even if we believe the pink coloration on the fuse is worth the expense, how much more can the material and workmanship add to a standard equivalent <$2 high quality fuse?! The implication is that this PINK "Quantum" device has special powers to improve sound.

      Do we believe the maker of this device deserves to be rewarded with the mark-up in cost? Based on what evidence, whose testimony? If there is indeed nothing this fuse adds based on any evidence, do we allow ourselves to believe in order for the placebo effect to work? (Wouldn't it be foolish to spend a couple hundred bucks on devices like these and still need to tell ourselves "I believe" because there was never any active ingredient otherwise?!)

  4. Hi Arch,
    Enjoy New York City. I visit a lot of wineries every year and enjoy their wines out of cheap glasses. And I’ve started writing the MQA article I owe you.

    1. Thanks Stephen,
      Yeah man! I see that MQA aka Wave Realizations Ltd. is now moved from "Administration to Dissolution" as of April. I guess that's the end of that, eh?

      Would love to publish a final "eulogy"! Or perhaps more accurately, final "damnation" of this company. 🤣

  5. Arch,

    I'm constantly amazed at the level of fetishism that audio cables have attained for some audiophiles. I've seen audiophiles on the subjective forums declare "cables are my favourite thing in audio gear." These are the folks who own, and have tried, endless boutique cables! There's a youtube audiophile/reviewer who is particularly obsessed with cables, and in some of his videos where he takes us in to local high end audio stores, his camera has barely set sites on the speaker set up before it starts prowling around back, the audiophile pointing out every single cable, every brand, with relish. It's the main focus. I find it just bizarre.

    I'm presuming you are aware of Jay's Audio Lab - the big fellow who cycles through flagship high end gear like it's a rack of Oreos. He just showed off his latest cable acquisition, over $100,000 pair of speaker cables. When the comments became too skeptical he did a follow up and, to no surprise for anyone who has even expressed skepticism on a subjectivist forum, Jay "system-shamed" the critics - found a picture of one critic's audio system to tout how low-grade it was and how his own was vastly more resolving so of course Jay hears differences in cables. The problem as always is that audiophiles like Jay just exhibit no technical knowledge whatsoever about gear, and are just hapless in the face of marketing claims made for the equipment. So of course all he has is his "Golden Ears" to check out the gear, and naturally he can imagine any sonic changes. He goes on about the extraordinary sonic changes rendered by the new cables, including explosive new dynamics, utterly unaware of how implausible this is. It's like watching someone bragging about the Perpetual Motion Machine he just bought. Yeesh.

    1. Hey there Vaal,
      Looks like you've been browsing the 'Tubes :-).

      Thanks for the tip on Jay's recent video. Will check it out what I can. I find his personality fascinating to watch! He speaks too much (often despite supposedly "interviewing" someone), clearly is trying to be an "influencer", clearly is "sucking up" to the Industry, and appears to be trying to make a career change over to hawking audiophile products from whatever his current day job is. IMO it's uneducated and his channel is interesting as a clownish distraction - especially all this $100,000 cable stuff. What a joke. Even all this 6-figure speaker flipping isn't in any way meaningful IMO.

      I seriously hope he sticks with whatever his day job is. Looks like he's making good money as is and has plenty of toys.

      Yeah, I wonder why some folks focus so much on meaningless stuff like cables (especially power cables). I guess cables generally are easier to move in and out of the home and maybe the temptation of testimony from those who insist that changing cables "sounds like I changed my DAC" or "is as big as a speaker change" can be very tempting to those who are easily psychologically influenced.

      The problem is that these claims are obviously false. Any cable that changes sounds can only do it through adding losses or some kind of distortion; they can never really make thing sound "better" than objectively electrically good wires.

      I'm sure we'll keep debating this... But I do hope in time most audiophiles are way more educated than people like Jay.

    2. I think that's a good point about cables: the ease of playing with different cables in a system, vs lugging around new speakers or amps etc.

      I have enjoyed the side-show aspect of Jay's channel, it's fun to see some of the crazy equipment he plays with, speakers especially. But his transformation in to a salesman and "branding" himself is quite off-putting, as it takes up ever more of his spiel. Also, the influence he has on some he sold his Rockport speakers to a fellow who just stumbled across his youtube videos and took Jay to be a wise audio guru.
      The next thing we see is Jay at his "customer's house, where Jay set him up with of course incredibly expensive amps. And the last detail? At the moment the customer was playing digital files off his laptop, but Jay is going to helpfully sell him an MSB DAC system - over One Hundred Thousand Dollars!!! - instead! That's the problem with golden eared influencers, isn't it?

    3. Ah. Cables. So contentious a subject and sadly one that really needn’t be debated.
      Do you remember James Randi offering 1 million dollars to anyone who could prove that uber expensive cables were better than ordinary cables? This arose from Dan Clarks review of an Anjou Speaker cable costing 7,250 dollars. He writes, "... way better than anything I have heard...Simply put these are very danceable cables. Music playing through them results in the proverbial foot-tapping scene with the need or desire to get up and move. Great swing and pace—these cables smack that right on the nose big time." As I understand it Pear, the manufacturer of the Anjou cables backed out from the challenge after initially agreeing to it.
      Michael Fremer of Stereophile, had a long-winded rant about the event but oddly enough did not bother to conduct his own controlled blind test to disprove Randi.
      Cable manufacturer Intex have a very nice summary on their webpage regarding cable myths
      Unfortunately, regardless of all the convincing arguments that cables do not matter, provided they have the necessary gauge and insulation, you will nevertheless struggle to persuade the cable cultists to spend their dollars elsewhere.

    4. Hey Vaal,
      Just had a peek at the Jay's Audio Lab video where he showed the picture of the cable-critic's system. The classic "the system is not good enough to show differences between cables" rationale. Regardless, there's just no good reason adequate speakers cables would make a significant difference. Given that he's talking about the expensive MIT cables, he really should just measure those cables and check frequency response to see whether those cables are just fooling around with filter networks. The fact that he doesn't have the ability to do that is a shame, and I suspect he doesn't appreciate what those cables are doing to the signal; just another salesman parroting how great something sounds because they cost $100,000 or whatever. If he truly wants to understand, he needs to run measurements - maybe then he'll truly learn something. What he's saying is just buffoonery and lots of hot air.

      Sounds like a classic upselling job with that client! Not that anyone should not or cannot own a nice streamer or MSB DAC of course... But let's be honest that spending all that money is obviously not necessarily worth it from a sound quality stance. Probably better for the client to experiment and explore for himself rather than get this kind of extremely pricey advice (with presumably Jay getting a cut for his misinformation, IMO).

      Oh yeah, that James Randi challenge with $1M back in 2007:

      Seriously, if they could do it, the snake oil salesmen would have snatched the money in a heartbeat given their love of making a buck. All they can do is perpetuate the myth to keep the con game going just like Jay. And of course guys like Mike Fremer who would never have been able to hear any difference from the beginning.

  6. I don't think the wine analogy works at all. The recording may be like the wine, but the playback equipment is not like the glassware. There is no real-world playback system that does not add some "flavor" to the sound. Even if we stipulate that electronic equipment like DACs and amplifiers can be built to be perfectly "transparent", when you add an electromechanical transducer at the output (and, with loudspeakers, a room) , you are getting added "flavor". Imagine a world in where glassware always adds a bit of flavor to the beverage served in it. We might be able to control the exact flavor that's added to some extent, but we can't eliminate it entirely. That's where we are with music reproduction. We're stuck with picking what added flavor we will tolerate. I think even the most ardent objectivists will agree that there is no perfectly transparent loudspeaker nor perfectly transparent room (I am not sure we could even agree what that would mean), and some of us would argue that even the upstream equipment cannot be made perfectly transparent.

    1. Hi Errant Audiophile,
      I certainly can agree with you that we need to focus on the importance of the room and speakers (or headphones). Those things absolutely make the most significant difference within the audio reproduction system these days.

      Sadly, I think many audiophiles spend waaaaay too much time on the easily satisfied and least significant bits of this hobby - like cables, tweaks, and much of the electronics - claiming that those things make huge differences when in comparison they are not likely to with "high fidelity" stuff these days. Yet we argue about them so much and see so much discord around this stuff.

      The music itself IMO is still by far the most important thing that determines our enjoyment. My sincere hope is that most of us are not as Alan Parsons suggested:
      "Audiophiles don't use their equipment to listen to your music. Audiophiles use your music to listen to their equipment.

  7. @Errant Audiophile
    Sorry wine making is way more complex than any AUDIO system - PERIOD. There is more than just ears involved with wine or any alcoholic beverage - both taste and smell are needed. Try tasting a wine holding your nose and see how different it tastes.

    Well, sommeliers are trained to understand the differences in wine and are blind tested to be so. All go through the same training and a test at the end. Not so with the supposed 'Golden Ears' in audio. Even clubs for wine, like the American Wine Society do their taste tests blind, so people just wouldn't pick the most expensive wine. Why can't audiophiles to that also? I guess they are afraid that what they like, will not be what they pick in the test, is my guess.

    The same is said for tasting at a distillery for whiskey, which I did work at. I had to go through a training class, standardized and also trained with specific isolated chemical compounds, so that one can pick them up in whiskey.

    Audiophiles would like to think that audio is more complex, but it really more simplified to a fermented product that is based on how well the the fruit or grain is grown and how well the vintner does his job, Stainless Steel or oak, or combination, time on the skin if red or rose, on the lees or off, then there is aging, new oak, old oak, French Oak versus American versus other woods like used in Asia. All has to be tested, controlled, and bottled. It is science through and through, and comes out at the end as art.

    Both in whiskey and in wine they also have the wheels, which are descriptions of the various flavor and Fragrance compounds in both.

    1. Cool stuff botrytis!
      Didn't know you were so deep into the science and art of alcoholic beverages!

      I definitely think the complexity of the alcoholic beverage-making process is more like the art and science of the music production process involving the artist, collaborators, and the audio production folks behind the scenes. In comparison, the music reproduction side we futz about with as audiophiles is much more science than art despite "high-end" company and "Golden Ear" claims.

  8. Hey Arch,

    As I said, I have worked in the distilling industry. Most is really based on science, but it is the art in mixing different barrels, where in the barrel warehouse they are from, etc. It is very complex process, as you said, more akin to actually recording and mixing the music we use our systems to reproduce.

    It is amazing all the futz put out by 'Golden Ears' in the audiophile hobby. I love all the 'hoo haa' about cables and the like and when I ask them HOW based on physics, does it do this, the major response is:
    There are reasons why some don’t hear difference between cables.
    most common I get get from 'Golden Ears';

    "1. Low quality components

    2. Bad room acoustics even with decent components this will be detrimental

    3. Bad setup - speakers are not properly placed, speakers blocked by large furniture, no designated listening position, no critical listening and again low quality components and room acoustics

    4. Listener is not able to hear differences - not everyone can.

    5. Listeners never tried and never will try upgraded cables. Thoughts based purely on “science” and or audio science review.

    6. Doesn’t want to or doesn’t have the means to upgrade cables

    In any case, arguing with these people is pointless."

    Never mind, all the futz they put out. It is all internal bias but they will NEVER admit it because 'HEAVEN FORBID' their ears are lying to them.

    I mean, currently on A'gon, they were arguing over whether Rhodium or Palladium is better for outlets/plugs, never mind that neither have the capability of copper for or aluminum for conducting electricity. It borders on absurdity.

    Keep up the good work.

    (I did my M.S./Ph.D. on the noble rot fungus, so it kind of stuck with me :D )

    1. Hey Botrytis,
      "Nobel rot" on grapes, nice. :-)

      Rhodium vs. Palladium? Clearly it must be rhodium because it's something like 4-5 times the price as I look at the market. I'm pretty sure the Golden Ears can hear this! Who cares about the science of conductivity.🤣 [Thankfully rhodium is a better conductor than palladium.]

      I think you've captured the essence of the Golden Ear strategy for Apologetics against the heathens who would doubt. For all the other items on that list, we could combat such as getting more expensive gear, putting room treatments in, measuring speaker layout, spending some money to get expensive wires, etc...

      But #4 is a doozy and literally impossible to argue against if the Golden Ear Believer chooses to pick that one. Literally "Your ears aren't as good as mine." or in a religious context "God spoke to me but I guess He doesn't talk to you." 😡

      As usual with these kinds of arguments, the only thing we can do is remind folks that the burden of proof for scientifically unexplained phenomena is on them. As per Hitchens's razor: "What may be asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence."

      There are times we need to just say that we disagree, put on a smile and walk away knowing that reasonable people will be on our side.

  9. Re: getting younger people into this ridiculous hobby. If my niece & nephew (early 20s) ever get into heavy duty listening, I'd aim them at a high-output, low cost amplifier-DAC. My favourite "gateway device pairings": Schiit Audio FullaE plugged into a Senheisser HD...somethingoranother.

    1. Absolutely, that sounds like a good combo Paul!

      I think introducing younger generations to higher quality headphone playback is the way to go. Over time, as they build up their careers, net worth, hopefully a nice home with enough room, they'll be enticed with the joys of better speakers and component systems...

  10. I would suggest if you are in an area where they have events
    Go there. Many people there are College students and are great to chat with. I found it a fun and informative event.


  11. Hi there, I'm surprised nobody else spoke up about this. Many years ago, my wife and I attended a session at the Vancouver Wine Festival given by Riedel, makers of lovely and very expensive wine apparatus. The session was not free. The presenter, a polished silver-haired European gentleman, was a Riedel executive. At each place was a selection of wine glasses; one basic supermarket-grade "ordinary" glass, then a variety of Riedel glass. The session was uncomplicated We tried a variety of good wines, first in the supermarket glass (which was always cleaned between rotations) then in one or two of the Riedel glasses (likewise). The difference between supermarket and Riedel was unsubtle, dramatic. The difference between Riedel glasses was perceptible but I suspect within the bounds of the placebo effect. Of course, Riedel has different lines of glasses not just for red vs white, but Burgundy, Riesling, Grigio, Malbec, etc etc etc. Anyhow, the session worked, we bought two sets of Riedel glasses, one for red, one for white (I forget which varietals they were nominally for).

    By way of disclosure: I like a good bottle of wine and have had rare opportunities to drink a famous vintage, but do not have a cellar nor am I obsessive. I like good sound but don't believe for a second in the efficacy of high-end cables. I used to believe in the merits of high-end DACs but you convinced me otherwise. You may recall my review not so long ago of a Parasound pre-amp with an $11 DAC, in which I quoted you.

    1. Umm, I don't mean to be snarky, but could it be that because you tried the wine in the supermarket glass first, you got intoxicated and loosened up, and anything you saw/did/experienced subsequently felt/appeared better than it would otherwise have done? So by the time you had wine in the Riedel glasses, you were, well, high enough to enjoy it more? If you tried the supermarket glass after the Riedel, it's possible your opinion would have reversed and you would have judged the supermarket glass more favorably.

      And even if this was a wine-tasting and not wine-drinking, the mere taste of wine would be enough to induce a placebo-like intoxifying effect or expectation, such that your sensory faculties get altered/numbed/diminished enough to reduce (however slightly) your ability to make an accurate decision or form an informed opinion subsequently.

      Basically, it would be like trying to judge several sets of speakers, but having your hearing ability diminish after every listening session, and so you end up judging every subsequent set of speakers more negatively. Ok, with the wine glasses you judge each subsequent set more favorably, but the point stands - when the thing you are assessing progressively affects your ability to assess it, what do you do?

      Just a point to ponder!

  12. Well, it is interesting because their is ACTUALLY SCIENCE behind the glass shapes. For example red wine glasses are rather wide as this allows for more surface areas which in turn helps with flavor development, with oxygen content. That is why many reds are decanted first, also to remove sediment, if not filtered for fines (there are reasons either way). White wines tend to be narrow to concentrate the fragrances, up your nose. The same can be said for specific beer glasses and whiskey glasses.

    Aren't you happy you asked :D



  13. Probably because of reading this post I've started getting ads of Norlan Glass ( ) for their whisky drinkware XD I'm guessing they didn't get the point of your post before targeting me with their ads :)

    To their credit they're not terribly over-priced, and they sure do look nice...but some of their marketing speak and ad copy has left me scratching my head...

    "Special protrusion forms inside our tasting glass create wave-like movements in the liquid when it is swirled within the bowl. This helps to release the ethanol within the spirit, allowing the scents to become more present when nosing, which in turn improves the flavor when drinking." they share the same ad agency as AudioQuest?

  14. "the room and how we optimize the sound is clearly the most important part of the audio system"

    Holy words!